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Understanding The Practice Squad

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NFL: AUG 15 Preseason - Jets at Falcons Photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

More than 1,100 players were cut by NFL teams this weekend. For more than 320 of them, that won’t mean the end of their NFL dreams.

In addition to the 53 man roster, every NFL team is permitted to maintain a practice squad of up to 10 players. Four NFL teams, including the Jets this year, may have an 11th “international player,” whose primary residence is outside the United States. An international player (in the Jets’ case, Valentine Holmes), if he is placed on the special 11th practice squad slot reserved for international players, will not be eligible to be promoted to the 53 man roster during the 2019 season. However, the Jets are free to place Holmes in one of the 10 regular practice squad slots, in which case he would be eligible for promotion to the 53 man roster. The league decides in any given year which four teams will be assigned an international player.

Practice squad players practice with the team every week but are ineligible, as long as they remain on the practice squad, to play in NFL games.

Let’s take a closer look at how the practice squad works.

SIGNING PRACTICE SQUAD PLAYERS

Final roster cuts from the off season 90 man rosters to the in season 53 man rosters took place this weekend. At 4:00 p.m. EDT today, every NFL team was required to reduce their roster to 53 players. Players cut with four or more years of NFL experience became unrestricted free agents and are immediately free to sign with any other NFL team. Players with less than four years of NFL experience were placed on waivers, and their contracts can be claimed by any other NFL team during the waiver period starting 4:00 p.m. EDT Saturday and ending 12:00 p.m. EDT Sunday. Successful waiver claims are processed in order of the waiver priority of any claiming teams, which priority is the same order as the 2019 NFL draft order prior to any trades.

NFL teams can begin signing players to their practice squads on Sunday, September 1, starting at 1:00 p.m. EDT. As soon as roster cuts are made, teams begin negotiating with the agents of the players they want on their practice squad, but nothing is final before Sunday at 1:00 p.m, since any player a team wants might be subject to being claimed by another team and signed to their 53 man roster.

ELIGIBILITY

Not all players are eligible for the practice squad. Up to four players per practice squad may have up to two years of NFL experience each. Other than those four players, only players who have been on an active roster for fewer than nine games in any season of their careers are eligible for the practice squad.

A player is allowed on the practice squad for up to two years, provided that only years in which a player spends at least six weeks on a practice squad count against the two year limit. A third year of practice squad eligibility is allowed only if the team keeps 53 players on their active roster at all times.

PRACTICE SQUAD SALARIES

Practice squad players earn a minimum salary of $8,000 for every week they are on the practice squad, or $136,000 for a full 17 week season. Teams are free to pay more than the minimum; there is no upper limit. However, in practice the vast majority of practice squad players earn the minimum salary of $8,000 per week. As a result, the entire practice squad will ordinarily cost an NFL team approximately $1.4 million for an entire season, all of which counts against the salary cap.

A SPECIAL KIND OF RESTRICTED FREE AGENT

A practice squad player is in effect a special category of restricted free agent. Any practice squad player is free at any time to sign with any other NFL team. However, if any NFL team signs any player from another team’s practice squad, the signing team must add the practice squad player to their 53 man roster and pay him at least the NFL minimum salary for three weeks. Even if said player is released prior to the expiration of that three week period, he still must be paid and he counts against the signing team’s 53 man roster. In addition, practice squad players can’t be signed by another team any less than five days before the game, or nine days during a bye week, in the period leading up to a game against said other team. This is to prevent teams using practice squad players for the sole purpose of gathering information on their opponents.